New Zealand’s New Laws Are A Sign Of Increasingly Paranoid Times

New Zealand’s New Laws Are A Sign Of Increasingly Paranoid Times
Image: New Line Cinema

Last week, a new law in New Zealand, the Customs and Excise Act 2018, gave customs officials the power to confiscate and retain digital devices and request passwords so information can be read and cloned. Refusal to comply can result in tourists being hit with a fine of up to NZ$5000. And while you can appeal later, the reality is once your unlocked device has been handed over your data, and any data that connects you to other people such as email or instant messages are no longer private. This is a sign of increasingly invasive laws permeating our society.

The NZ Council for Civil Liberties has responded to the new law pointing out “Modern smartphones contain a large amount of highly sensitive private information including emails, letters, medical records, personal photos, and very personal photos. Allowing Customs to be able to demand the right to examine and capture all this information is a grave invasion of personal privacy of both the person who owns the device and the people they have communicated with.”

One our side of the Tasman Sea, we’ve seen the federal government make repeated attempts to circumvent encryption as well as commence massive data collection through the metadata retention program.

In short, law enforcement agencies are doing a better job of lobbying governments to provide them with increasingly powerful tools while those who fight for our privacy are often marginalised or demeaned as being weak on security.

The new rules in New Zealand are a significant escalation in my view. They apply to anyone entering the country with customs officials having the right to access devices if they have a suspicion that the person is of interest to law enforcement. And while law says the need reasonable cause, they don’t have to prove this before confiscating the device and you don’t have a right to appeal or refuse.

The worry is that other countries like Australia may see this as a precedent and introduce their own lows, just as customs agencies around the world now use body scanners when you enter departure areas.

Why do you think? Are these reasonable laws or do they represent a bridge too far in the ongoing erosion of our right to privacy?


  • This is indeed a bridge too far. Ignoring the breach of privacy (if I may), there still other implications.

    First, there will be a much higher volume of raw data which will require more time (and thus money) to process that that is assuming anything of use comes out of the process.

    Second, if the contents is pre-encrypted then they might not be able to anything either. It depends on the detail of the law if they are only allowed access to the credentials to the device itself.

    For example, if I hand over my phone, are they only allowed to take the phone’s pin but not the external password for the PGP style encryption of the notes in it?

    Finally, what if people start leaving their mobile devices behind as a protest?

    Seems out of place in this day and age, but if I turn up at NZ with neither my laptop nor my phone, what are they going to do to me?

    How can they fine me if I’m not carrying the device they would like to cease?

    At the end of the day, this just paints law enforcement as no different to the like of Graham Burke of Village-Roadshow. He refused to adapt and expected the world to carter to him and now we’re seeing this with law enforcement.

    And just like anti-piracy measures in entertainment, these invasive measures in society will only harm the good actors while the bad ones remain unaffected.

    • …gave customs officials the power to … request passwords so information can be read Encrypted or not, it sounds like they can force you to hand over all passwords required to view the contents of anything you might have.

    • This is a very small step away from forcing people to prove that they haven’t got email and social media accounts. So, if you turn up at the airport without any devices, or with nothing on them – the customs people would try to force you to reveal all the accounts you hold and give them access.

  • So does that mean we have to do a cloud backup, then factory reset on our phone before arriving in countries like US and NZ, then do a Restore after landed?

    If any criminal had anything to hide and any brains, that’s what they’d do. So, a pointless exercise designed to catch criminals with no brains.

    Pointless, except to further erode privacy of ordinary citizens. Next time the fascists come to power, they won’t have to do anything – all the rotten laws will have already been enacted by the current crop of no-hopers in Parliaments.

    • Not just phones. -laptops and tablets as well. Laptops are generally far harder to restore on the fly. I’m thinking “system on a disk” things might be a way around as they’re just storage devices but the inconvenience might be a challenge for some.

  • It’s already been proven time and time again, that when you provide this data to government agencies, it’s still being handle by humans. Fallible, flawed humans, who can AND DO abuse it, no matter how supposedly tight the controls and oversight.

    This authoritarian trend in governments worldwide is incredibly disturbing.

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